Are You a Workaholic?

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What are Your Memories of Your Parents and Work?  

Were they always around? Were they always working and you were perhaps left to fend for yourself, or cared for by other family members? Did they work long hours? Did they bring work home? Were they always tired and talking about work? Did they travel a lot for work?

The memory I have was that my mother and father worked long hours and really hard seven days a week. Evenings were spent wrapping up the day and preparing for the next. There was no social life and any socialising was done at work. When there was downtime, they were sleeping because they were so tired.

As a child seeing this, I thought this was normal and as I grew up, I emulated what I had seen. Working one job, whilst creating another business on the side or taking on a second job, then continuing to work day and night, rarely leaving my computer. What I had seen was a sure way to success as my mother and father had become. This was how you “got ahead and set yourself up” in life.

By the time I was in my 30’s I had become what was known as a “workaholic”.  and I was proud of this. This was the road to success so I’d work all day, take a short break and then find some reason to continue working into the night. When I did go to sleep, exhausted; I’d often wake up during the night thinking about work. So, I would get up and to two – three hours at the computer.

I knew the pace was challenging and sometimes I identified that I was repeating the habits I had learnt as a child, working long hours and then sleeping due to exhaustion. Despite being so tired all the time I secretly was proud of this however, I did wonder how I could keep it up. I knew what I was doing was way more than a “good work ethic”.

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The problems started when I found myself not being able to reason with anyone. I was completely exhausted and had nothing left to maintain a professional composure. I knew something had to change when I was getting sick all the time.

This was how you got ahead to set yourself up in life.

What is workaholism?  

The term “workaholism” was first used in 1971 by psychologist Wayne Oates, and he defined it as a compulsion or an uncontrollable need to work incessantly.

Since then, psychologists and mental health researchers have challenged the definition. Whilst the term is not recognised as a disorder, it has a huge impact on people’s lives and a contributing factor to people not taking leave with Australians working *3.2 billion hours of unpaid overtime in 2018. All this despite Australia having a laid back reputation.

Work addiction is a complex condition in which an individual develops a psychological, emotional, and social dependence on work, that is chronic and progressive. People with work addiction often work at the expense of other aspects of their lives, working long hours even when it is not needed, sacrifice sleep to get work done, and frequently worry about their work performance. They may be obsessive about thinking of ways to free up more time for work and become stressed if they are stopped from working, and therefore not taking leave.

Long Hours vs Work Addiction 

Work addiction is not the same as merely working long hours, which is part of what makes it so hard to spot. There are certain professions that do rely on long work hours. However, just because someone has one of those jobs doesn’t mean they’re necessarily addicted to what they do. That said our culture does reward people who work hard so if there is a problem, it is harder to realise.

Ambition and working towards achieving success, combined with recognition from management can also serve as a contributing factor to work addiction. When you are starting a new career or role, the desire is to prove yourself to management to secure your path to success. In the self-employed world, there is not always someone else to get support from, so it is added to your own (already jam packed) workload, combine this with the need/desire to succeed and here is a path to workaholism..

The difference between someone who works long hours and a true workaholic is that the person addicted to work struggles to psychologically detach from work, even when they’re away from the office.

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Workaholism and the Link to Health Problems 

Apart from the poor productivity that can result from being a workaholic there are also the associated health problems, both psychological and physical. When you struggle to detach from work, often you will ruminate, which can lead to high levels of stress, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems and burnout.

Ongoing chronic stress can impact your body causing serious illness:

  • Anxiety & depression
  • Cardiovascular disease; heart disease, heart attacks
  • High blood pressure, stroke

In addition, work addiction can impact your relationships, leading to loneliness, isolation and consequently depression.

Work Addiction is Treatable 

To seek treatment, identifying and acknowledging your workaholic state is essential. The only person that can create the change needed is you.

Often you need to step out and look in, as a burnout coach this is frequently what I see. A person has become so entrenched in the habits they have created that they are not able to see the workaholic behaviours. Seeking the support required to crowd out the habits that have become subconsciously ingrained.

High achievers, people who have driven themselves through school and/or University, workaholics that grew up in workaholic families are all prone to work addiction / workaholic behaviours. After years of being rewarded for their “hard work”, it is now seen as a form of recognition, gratification and success.

Workaholism can also develop out of trauma, “throwing yourself into work” to numb pain and trauma becomes a coping mechanism to get through a rough patch. If the trauma is not resolved, it can be hard to stop the behaviours created out of the workaholic survival strategy.

Creating a harmonious flow of work and life can make a person happier, energised, and more refreshed, which in turn leads to more creativity and efficiency at work.

Suggestions to Interrupt the Workaholic Behaviours: 

1. Set a time that your day ends (and stick to it) 

Sounds simple, yet this can be the biggest challenge as you “just want to do something more”. The sooner you commit to a stop time for the end of your day the sooner you will see that your productivity will improve. Please include a break during the day to go for a walk, enjoy a healthy snack, smoothie or lunch to support your congnitive capacity.

2. Schedule activities after your workday is over 

This will be a whole new world for a workaholic. Arrange to meet someone so you have commitment, this will help to keep you accountable whilst you are creating the new habit. You are taking time for yourself and this will be of benefit, just give it time.

3. Make time for friends and family 

Connecting with those that are important to you will nourish you and repair any damage or distance that may have been created by your incessant desire to work. Be honest about what you are doing, the people that care about you will be your biggest supporters.

4. Seek help from a therapist or counsellor if you’re struggling 

If you are still not managing to create boundaries between your work and your life outside work, it may be best to seek professional support. Start with a conversation with your Medical Practitioner. There are also support groups (In Australia) such Workaholics Anonymous .

The Way Forward 

If you’re addicted to work, you’ll feel a compulsive need to do your job. When you’re away from it, you’ll find it difficult to “turn off,” which can affect your mental and physical health as well as your personal relationships.

The good news is, there’s help. If you think work addiction applies to you, know that you do have options.

Success is when you learn to value your time, yet continue to make time for activities outside work.

Let’s chat and see how we can create a plan for you, to remove workaholic habits and bring joy into your life.

Sally x

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